Widgethon (I): How I joined a Hackathon without Coding Experience


In July, Grab held its first Widgethon, a widget hackathon for the Grab App Feed – Grab’s new lifestyle feed that provides up-to-date content and personalised features to our users, to help them rediscover their cities and local communities. The company-wide event played host to more than 250 Grabbers, and was by-far Grab’s largest hackathon yet.

We turned to two non-tech Grabbers to recount their unique experience participating in the Widgethon, and to show that one doesn’t need to be a techie to excel and have fun in a hackathon.

This week, we invited Serene, a Talent Content Specialist and a recent addition to our Grab Family, to share her story as a fresh-hacker.


Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself.

S: “I’m Serene, a relative newcomer to Grab. I recently did a career switch from architecture to producing employer branding content for Grab.”

So what is it that pushed you to participate in the Widgethon?

S: “In my second month, I heard there was an inaugural 2-day Widgethon happening company-wide. Coming from a non-tech background, I had no idea how a hackathon, much less a Widgethon worked. I assumed the event was only targeted at the Software Engineering Teams, and it didn’t even cross my mind to participate. It was only when I casually shared my ‘Movie Widget’ idea with my colleague that he encouraged me to actually create it! At first, I thought, “I don’t even know how to code, what can I do?” However, my colleagues kept egging me on, and after much persuasion, I decided to gather a team, made up of an intern from my team in Employer Branding and a Software Engineer, to join me in the Widgethon.”

The panel of judges

How was the experience like for you during the event itself?

S: “On the day itself, we found out that there were around 80 teams participating in the Widgethon, which was by far Grab’s biggest hackathon event. The panel of judges consisted of our Head of Product & Design (Jerald Singh), Head of Regional Operations (Russell Cohen), Head of Country Marketing (Brenda Bey), Head of Engineering (Suthen Thomas), Head of Strategy Indonesia (Valerie Khoo) and Service Design Lead (Dharani Priyahansika Perera). Each team was required to present their widget in 3 minutes, and were judged according to:  Relevance, Impact, Readiness for Production and User Experience.”

Serene then elaborates more on her widget idea.

S: “My team’s concept centred around the idea of an all-in-one movie widget, where the app user would be able to watch all the latest movie trailers in one place. Upon clicking on the chosen movie, the user can then read the movie’s reviews and see the showtimes at nearby cinemas. After, he or she could then book the movie tickets and a ride to the cinema with GrabPay or GrabRewards; leveraging on other Grab platforms. The hackathon template given to us only allowed for the incorporation of basic features like watching the latest movie trailers. I didn’t want to limit my idea. Therefore, I decided to build a whole new prototype from scratch to add in all the features I initially wanted.”

Prototype: Browsing the latest available movies available

That’s quite a novel idea to bring up. How did you go about creating the widget from there?

S: “With this vision in mind, I allocated the workflow accordingly, making sure our roles were clearly mapped out: I was to design the prototype, my engineering colleague was to work on backend development and produce the demo, while my recruitment marketing intern was to conduct user research and work on the presentation. It was actually my first time creating a prototype, so I had to learn the tool Figma from scratch. With that and a lot of luck, I managed to build my widget.”

Serene’s hackathon presentation

Did your presentation manage to encapsulate the vision you had for your widget?

S: “We started our presentation with a live demo of the widget created based on the initial hackathon template. Following this, we then showed the features our widget had that extended beyond the hackathon requirements, and illustrated how our prototype could push the Grab Feed one step further through the incorporation of reviews, timings, bookings, gamification and so much more. We wanted to show the relevance and impact our widget could bring to our users, merchants and business units. At the end of the presentation, the judges even expressed interest to find out more and asked if it was ready for production.”

“Unfortunately, our team didn’t qualify for the top 6, but we did receive an honorable mention from the judges! It felt so rewarding. The Widgethon also generated tons of great ideas, ranging from gamification elements to recommendations for places and activities, utility, content, social, and eCommerce. It was also really encouraging to see participants from both tech and non-tech backgrounds step up to the plate.”

Serene & teammates celebrating the end of the hackathon

Serene also touches on her unique personal takeaways from the experience.

S: “Over the course of the two days, I got a taste of what Product Management and UX Design is like. And to my surprise, my architecture background actually shared many parallels to these fields:

  1. Collaborative work

An architect oversees a project and collaborates with clients, engineers and contractors to translate the design from paper into a physical building. Similarly, as the ‘product manager’ of my widget, I crafted the idea and vision, allocated work according to everyone’s skill set and monitored the timeline towards completion.

  1. User-centric design

Just like how architects design to fit the needs of building’s occupants, we made sure to have Grab’s consumers’ best interests at heart. We carried out user research to understand their habits and preferences. With the results gathered, we carefully designed features that could bring them a seamless and cashless experience from beginning to end.

  1. Logical and intuitive flow

As the ‘UX designer’, I ensured the widget’s design was clear and intuitive for users to navigate through, just as how a building user is supposed to move through through a space, either through external directional prompts or internal logical sense of flow. Whether it is to walk down a path, locate a washroom, move to another floor of the building, the journey should not confuse, deter or discriminate users. Similarly, whether the buttons will lead me to the next page, read more content or check out my cart, I had to test every possible scenario and reiterate my design multiple times to make sure the flow worked.

  1. Take multiple things into consideration at the same time

I had to consider how our widget could bring value to our users, how our partners could benefit from the collaboration, and how we would implement it. Likewise, architects have to consider user comfort, structural stability, and safety regulations, alongside the overall aesthetics.

  1. Design process

Architects develop designs from conceptual to schematic to construction drawings, much like how I started from a wireframe to the final prototype. I also gathered feedback from my team and friends during each design phase.

Commemorating the end of the event

“I feel like I’ve been very lucky in that I was able to use my background in architecture to aid me in the Widgethon. In the grand scheme of things, I’ve also realised how much this event authentically reflected Grab’s culture and values. The hackathon wasn’t exclusive to the tech folks, and innovation doesn’t only come from the top decision-makers. Everyone in the company is encouraged to contribute and share their ideas, regardless of role and seniority.”

Any final thoughts?

S: “Here at Grab, there’s really no limit to what anyone can do.”


Stay tuned next week for Samuel’s take on what hacking at Grab is really like.

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